Review: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – ‘Cold Roses’

I’ll spare you the details, but yours truly is hella busy this week. Here’s a piece on Ryan Adam’s dynamic, life-altering Cold Roses, exclusive to The Rawking Refuses To Stop! (Disclaimer: This was written before Disc 1 deleted the contents of my iPod and put itself on hardcore repeat until I was reduced to a blubbery mess of Ryan love. But you get the idea.)

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cold Roses
Lost Highway

Has Ryan Adams finally bitten off more than he can chew? Bright Eyes has two new albums, The Eels have released a double-disc set, and Sufjan Stevens’ upcoming “Illinois” will be a staggering seventy-five minutes. As if to one-up his singer-songwriter competition, Adams’ “Cold Roses” is the first installment in a three-part, four disc series of 2005 releases. The difference between Adams and his contemporaries is that he does this every year.

Adams’ “Demolition” album was comprised of songs taken from three sets of unreleased recordings, known as the “Suicide Handbook,” “48 Hours” and “Pinkhearts” sessions. His 2003 release, “Love Is Hell,” was originally recorded as two separate albums and was pared down to one for its release alongside “Rock N Roll.” Ryan Adams material abounds on the internet, with bootleg collections like the “Destroyer Sessions” and “Exile On Franklin Street” widely circulated among fans. Though Adams has drawn frequent criticism for the genre-hopping of his official releases, these private recordings tend to stray closer to the spare country-folk of his acclaimed debut, “Heartbreaker.” “Cold Roses” could have easily become the newest addition to the pile of unreleased full-lengths, but instead will mark Adams’ public return to the alt-country sound he once helped popularize.

“Cold Roses” is the first Ryan Adams release to credit a band (the Cardinals), and their inclusion is probably responsible for the album’s raw, vibrant sound. For once, Adams doesn’t have to carry every song by himself, and both discs chug along with the energy of an inspired live performance. “Dance All Night” proves once more that Adams can do no wrong with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and the down-and-dirty electric blues of “Beautiful Sorta” hearken back to “Heartbreaker”’s “Shakedown On 9th Street.” Impressively, the two discs contain nary a dull moment, with Adams playing swooning guitar ballads like “Rosebud” right next to the Rolling Stones-y jam-out title track. “When Will You Come Back Home” is one of Adams’ finest heart-on-his-sleeve love songs, and throughout, he juggles the sound of having fun playing with his new band with serious moments, all without ever sounding contrived.

The two-disc split keeps the material to manageable portions – it’s best to think of it as two Ryan Adams albums for the price of one, rather than a single hulking seventy-five minute monster. Adams justifies the split with strong opening and concluding tracks, the best of which is the morose piano ballad “How Do You Keep Love Alive?” that finishes disc 1 and the one-two punch of “Easy Plateau” into the spaghetti western guitars of “Let It Ride” that kicks off the second disc.

Adams, who has always been equal parts “alt” and “country,” has finally returned what he does best: making the world safe for country music. With another two albums up his sleeve, he may be saving the best for last; either way, “Cold Roses” will more than tide you over.

Another update on Thursday with links to my published material for the week, and then maybe another one after I write 50 inches on U2 tribute bands this weekend? I’ll do what I can.

In liu of the Rob Gordon Shuffle, know that I’m listening to The Russian Futurists and AK-MOMO this week.